Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Great Loss

It was mid-September, and Zach and I were in the throes of the final section of the PCT. We had stopped at one of the last trail angels before the border, a place in central Washington called Hiker Haven. I stood on a rain-soaked lawn, breath steaming, with blackberry bushes and mountains shouldered up next to me under the moody sky. I scrolled through my Facebook messages on our phone, looking over the list of prayer requests from my Bible study group. One of the prayer requests, from my mom, was, “Michael’s mother probably only has 6 months left to live.” 

Michael is my dad. And staring at the empty sentence, I began to realize that Mom was talking about Nonni. 

My dad’s parents, Nonni and Poppi as we call them in good Southern fashion, had been in poor health for a while. Poppi’s mind was sharp but his body was falling apart. Nonni’s body was fine but Alzheimer’s had robbed her of her mind. But I didn’t realize that she was so close to leaving us. The fact seeped into my mind, but I was too numb to process it. I just felt sad. 

The next day, there was nothing to do but continue our journey into the wilds of northern Washington.

A couple days later, Zach and I were trying to set up our tent under trees that did little to shield us from the cold rain that incessantly pattered from the sky. I was wrestling with the zipper on my backpack, trying to keep our gear as dry as possible, and I began slamming stuff around and not-quite-swearing. 

Annoyed, Zach told me to have a better attitude. I practically snarled at him, intending to yell something about how I was trying to have a good attitude. But instead, all that escaped my lips was a whimper: “I don’t want my Nonni to die.” And then I burst into tears.

I’ll always associate that section of Washington with coming to terms with my grandparents’ deaths. They were both alive at the time, but I had to look at the reality that they soon wouldn’t be with us. In the wet, lonely landscape, God gave me peace about it. They were suffering so much, and soon that suffering would be over.

Nonni went home to be with God on November 18th. Last Thursday, Poppi followed.

I know that they’re together again, and that they’re in a place without pain or age or sorrow. But sometimes— all too often, lately— I find myself grieving that we live in a world where death has to exist.

Rest in peace, Nonni and Poppi. I miss you both so much.

Poppi, my siblings Christian and Mary, Nonni, and me, January 2012

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing his mercies and his grace,
In a mansion bright and blessed
He’s prepared for us a place!

When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

~written by Eliza E. Hewitt in 1898. Through the years I’ve sung this song with all of my grandparents before they passed on.


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